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Tell Me Why

Although it's also the title of a Beatles song (covered by the Beach Boys too!), today we're taking a look at German variations of the adverb warum (why).


Und warum schickt die Lehrerin dann immer ihn Kreide holen?

So then why does the teacher always send him to get chalk?

Caption 40, Der kleine Nick: Nachmittag bei Adalbert

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Ich weiß nicht warum, aber auch die Luft ist in dieser Jahreszeit oft wunderbar klar.

I don't know why, but the air is often wonderfully clear at this time of year.

Captions 15-16, Deutsch mit Eylin: Herbst in Hamburg

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Ja? Warum nicht, warum nicht, warum nicht.

Yes? Why not, why not, why not.

Caption 14, Deutschkurs in Tübingen: Warum, weil - Erklärungen

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It's probably pretty clear that warum can be used in a variety of contexts. But there are also—in English as well as German—different ways of saying "why."


Weshalb hatte er dann eine Pistole?

Why did he have a pistol then?

Caption 21, Großstadtrevier: Schatten der Vergangenheit

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Weshalb hast du Entspannung gebraucht?

Why did you need relaxation?

Caption 18, Konjugation: Das Verb „brauchen“

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As you see above, the adverb weshalb has been correctly translated into English as "why." But these two German sentences could just as well have been translated in different ways:


Weshalb hatte er dann eine Pistole?
What did he have a pistol for, then?
How come he had a pistol, then?
For what reason did he have a pistol, then?


Weshalb hast du Entspannung gebraucht?
What did you need relaxation for?
How come you needed relaxation?
For what reason did you need relaxation?


The adverb weshalb can be used when you are explicitly asking about the purpose of something, and is, to some extent, the equivalent of the English "what for." The adverb weshalb tends to be used more often in a written context, but is also commonly used in spoken German.


Everything in a word's meaning will vary depending upon the context. It's simply more natural to say something one way than another, with varying factors such as the subtlety of the intended meaning and the formality or informality of the context all playing roles. In the following case, three different equivalent English words and phrases were used just to differentiate the German words— plus it would read pretty badly using "why" three times in a row!


Die Frageworte „wieso“, „weshalb“, „warum“ bedeuten alle das Gleiche. Aber „wieso“ und „warum“ werden am häufigsten verwendet.
The question words “how come,” “for what reason,” “why” all mean the same thing. But “how come” and “why” are the most commonly used.
Captions 6-7, Deutsch mit Eylin: Fragewörter


So while they may mean approximately the same thing, it's up to you to decide which German word works best in context. Here are some more words with similar "why" meanings:


Also, kann's Gründe geben, weswegen wir dann doch 'n bisschen später ankommen?

That is, is there any reason why we might arrive a little later?

Caption 60, Galileo Zug vs. Flugzeug: Von München nach Berlin

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The adverb weswegen is used more in writing than in speech, but if somebody ever asks you Weswegen?—and you want to be flippant—you can answer Deswegen! ("Why?" —"Because!")


Wozu braucht man einen Fruchtbarkeitstee, wenn man bereits schwanger ist?

Why do you need fertility tea if you are already pregnant?

Caption 9, Großstadtrevier Nicht mit mir - Part 5

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The adverb wozu is also often translated as "what for."


Further Learning
Look for the German "why" adverbs warum, weshalb, wieso, weswegen, and wozu on Yabla German and see some of the various contexts in which they are used. Then write a list of English sentences and see if you can make multiple translations to German using the words above.

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